Winding down with mint chocolate mousse


Last week I traveled for work. No matter how long I’m gone, it’s always nice to come home to my own space.

Because I didn’t return home until late Saturday afternoon, I knew I’d only have one full day of the weekend to myself. So I planned to do some cooking. To get a head start, I decided to make dessert.

Work has been particularly time-consuming lately, so much so that I haven’t had time to try anything from the new cookbook I bought in April, Curtis Stone’s “What’s for Dinner?” That was the first place I looked for inspiration. I settled on his Bittersweet-chocolate Mint Mousse.

Stone’s version of the mousse is thick and creamy, and the mint extract helps to bring out the richness of the chocolate. Other versions of mousse that I’ve made ended up overly foamy or the chocolate flavor wasn’t rich enough. The texture and flavor in this recipe are just about how I prefer them to be.

The only cooking involved is melting the chocolate. Making something with eggs that aren’t cooked always makes me a bit uneasy, so I researched whether it was OK and found this page in the Farmers’ Almanac, which stated that the risk of salmonella is low. If you’re worried about consuming the raw eggs, it also suggests substitutes for them.

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, thinly sliced
1/2 cup whole milk
3 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon mint extract (use 1/4 teaspoon if at high altitude)

Set a large heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Add the chocolate and butter to the bowl and stir until melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the saucepan. Whisk in the milk. Let stand for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the mixture is cool.

In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and 1/3 cup of the confectioners’ sugar on medium-high speed, until light and airy. In another medium bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites with the remaining 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Using a large flexible spatula, fold the egg yolk mixture into the cooled chocolate mixture. Gently fold in the egg white mixture.

Add the cream and the mint extract to the bowl that held the egg whites. Beat with the mixer (no need to clean the beaters) on high speed until thick, soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture.

Divide the mousse among six to eight dessert cups or bowls. Cover each one with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least two hours to chill and set the mousse.

Whipping up dessert in a hurry


Every time one of my staff members celebrates a birthday, I bring in a baked good just for them, something they don’t have to share with anyone else. When one of my staff members celebrated her birthday Friday and I knew I didn’t have a ton of time to make and decorate a cake, I instead chose to make a Banoffee Pie.

I first made a Banoffee Pie years ago after seeing Curtis Stone make one on “Take Home Chef.” It looked easy and I was pleased that I found it just as simple to make at home. The pie gets its name because it uses bananas and toffee. Making the toffee sauce is the only part that really takes much effort — and it doesn’t take much if you follow the instructions. The pie is framed by a simple graham cracker crust, filled with a base layer of toffee sauce, then topped with whipped cream with bananas folded into it. The rest of the toffee sauce is drizzled on top. It’s easy as, well, pie.

The nice thing about this recipe is that you get a lot more flavor than you might expect. When I first made it, I was worried about getting a mouthful of whipped cream, but the sliced bananas that are folded into it keep that from happening, and the toffee sauce on the top and bottom add a certain richness to it.

For the record, let me say that this is not a banana cream pie. There are bananas and cream, but they are not blended together as they are in the traditional desert.

Another plus is that you can do this in parts if you’re strapped for time. I made the crust and toffee sauce the night before, then made the whipped cream-and-banana filling the day of so it would be as fresh as possible.

This is a great option if you’re short on time and want to serve a light, flavorful dessert. It was a big hit with the birthday girl.

9 ounces graham crackers, crushed

1 stick butter, melted
1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 14-ounce  can sweetened condensed milk

1 stick butter
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
5 small ripe bananas (about 1 1/2 pounds)

Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper.

Chop the graham crackers in a food processor until they are finely ground.

Pour the melted butter over the crumbs and process to blend well. The crumbs should stick together when pressed.

Press the crumb mixture over the bottom and 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the springform pan. Refrigerate.

To make the toffee sauce, place a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Combine the sugar and 3 tablespoons of water in a medium heavy saucepan. banoffeepie3

Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and boil without stirring until the color is deep amber, occasionally swirling the pan and brushing down the sides with a pastry brush dipped into water, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the condensed milk and butter. Continue stirring for 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly.

Remove the toffee sauce from the heat and spread 1 cup of the sauce over the prepared crust and refrigerate for about 1 hour or until the toffee is semi-firm. This can be refrigerated overnight if you prefer to prepare the rest on the day it will be served.

Keep the remaining toffee sauce at room temperature.

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream in a large bowl until thick and very soft billowy peaks form.

Very thinly slice three of the bananas into discs.

Fold the sliced bananas into the softly whipped cream and spoon into the prepared pie crust.

Slice the remaining bananas and arrange them decoratively over the pie.

Re-warm the remaining toffee sauce gently over low heat.

Drizzle some of the sauce decoratively over the pie. If the sauce has thickened too much to drizzle, stir a few tablespoons of milk into the sauce to create a thinner consistency.

Cut the pie into wedges and transfer to plates.

Drizzle each pie wedge with more sauce and serve.

A pecan dessert at its finest

Thanksgiving is just a few days away. Are you ready? Pumpkin pie is a staple for my family, but for those of you who don’t like pumpkin pie or may be looking for something new for dessert, try Curtis Stone’s Pecan Tart.

I have never been a fan of pecan pie, but I’ve liked every recipe from Curtis Stone that I’ve tried. When I saw this pecan tart on his website a couple years ago, I decided to give it a chance. From the smell of toasted pecans while it was baking to the last bite, I enjoyed it.

The recipe says to bake it in a pie dish and, even if you have a tart pan, go with the pie dish. The last time I made it, I made the mistake of putting it in a tart pan and, after the filling puffed up, the mixture made a solid barrier just above the crust. I had to cut it out of the pan and it fell apart around the edges. As pretty as the edges could be, it’s not worth the hassle. Use the pie dish and keep it simple.

Whatever is on your table for Thanksgiving, I hope you have a happy holiday.

Flaky Dough Crust
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Combine flour, sugar and salt. Cut in butter. Using your hands, combine the ingredients until they resemble pea-size crumbs.

Drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water over mixture. Mix in just until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if mixture is dry.

Gather dough into ball. Flatten into disk. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes. (Can be prepared a day ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Roll out dough on a floured surface to a 10-inch round disk. Transfer to 8-inch diameter glass pie dish. Trim overhang to 3/4 inch; fold under and crimp decoratively. Set aside.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup golden syrup
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups pecan pieces
Whipped cream

Melt the butter in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Whisk until the butter is golden brown, about 2 minutes.

Pour the butter into a large bowl and cool to room temperature.

Whisk the golden syrup, sugar, and salt into the cooled brown butter to blend. Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the pecans. Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Bake the pie for 10 minutes.

Decrease the heat to 350 degrees and continue baking the pie until the edges puff and the center is just set, about 45 minutes longer.

Cool the pie on a cooling rack for at least an hour.

Serve the pie warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.

Cookies to satisfy any craving


When I was a kid, peanut butter cookies were my favorite treat. My mom used to make them by rolling the dough into balls and flattening them by making criss-cross fork imprints on the top. I used to love eating them warm shortly after they came out of the oven.

Around the same time, my grandmother in Wisconsin sent me a couple books from the “World Famous Muriel” series. In each book the heroine, Muriel, would solve mysteries as long as the person seeking her help provided her with peanut butter cookies. My grandmother must have seen that we had that in common.

Even now, I still enjoy peanut butter cookies; but I now use a recipe that incorporates chocolate. When I’m craving something sweet, I often turn to Curtis Stone’s Peanut Butter Cookies With Chocolate Chunks. The best part is how quickly they can be made. I had seen him make these cookies on an episode of “Take Home Chef,” and was delighted when the recipe was included in his most recent cookbook, “Relaxed Cooking With Curtis Stone.”

The original recipe calls for 5 ounces of semisweet chocolate. The first time I made them, all I had was a 4-ounce semisweet chocolate bar, and that turned out to be plenty. I once used chocolate chips, but I prefer chunks of chocolate for this recipe. When it comes to breaking up the chocolate, I’ve found the best way to do it is to smack the wrapped 4-ounce bar of chocolate on the edge of the counter until it feels broken up enough. The different size chunks add a homemade charm to the cookies. If using a stand mixer, just throw the whole bar into the bowl and let the stand mixer break it up into chunks.

The recipe says to remove the cookies from the oven when they’ve puffed up and begin to brown on top. At first, it might seem like you’re taking them out prematurely, but really, follow the recipe. The cookies continue to cook because of the residual heat. If you follow the recipe, you’ll have large, soft cookies to satisfy your sweet tooth.

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup natural chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated / caster sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ tablespoons honey
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat the peanut butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, honey, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended.

Stir the dry ingredients into the peanut butter mixture in 2 additions. Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Scoop about 3 tablespoonfuls of dough for each cookie onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart.

Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the cookies puff and begin to brown on top but are still very soft to the touch.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 5 minutes.

Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a rack and eat warm or cool completely.